The How Are U Week was held last week. For five days long there were lectures, workshops and social activities to raise awareness about student well-being. The week gave Birgit feelings of frustration. She had struggled with mental health issues for a long time and experienced firsthand how TU Delft dealt with it. To help herself deal with her frustration, she opened the TU I am sad Instagram account.
“The name of the welfare week suggests that TU Delft wants to enter into an open conversation with students, like a friend who asks ‘hey, how’s it going?’ It’s a logical question for a friend to ask, but in the context of TU Delft, to me it gives a skewed image. If you know that students’ mental health is deteriorating every year, the How Are U Week misses the point in terms of being a ‘conversation opener’.”
She points to various pieces of research into welfare (in Dutch) by the Landelijke Studentenvakbond (Dutch Student Union). “Even in 2013 (in Dutch) it appeared that 49% of the students had, or had had, psychological symptoms. I started studying in 2016 and every year a new report was published showing that the situation was even more worrying.
‘I miss some self-reflection on the part of TU Delft’
And the concerns of young adults are only increasing. They mention the pressure to perform, the climate crisis, the tight housing market, social pressure, and financial pressure such as inflation and a study debt that only rises and rises.
Birgit believes that the How Are U Week mostly puts the responsibility on the students. There were courses where you learnt to handle pressure or how to relax. “These are important skills, but why were the factors that cause these problems not looked at? I miss some self-reflection on the part of TU Delft, a critical look at how they may be part of the stress and pressure that students experience.”
In an interview in Delta, Student Council Chair Marten Leenders had previously said that he hoped to break the taboo about mental health in the welfare week. “A wonderful goal, but you then need to discuss the problems that really are at play,” says Birgit. She points out that the programme did not cover depression, anxiety, suicide or suicidal thoughts at all. And this while more than half the students (in Dutch) in 2021 had feelings of depression and anxiety. Suicide is the most common cause of death among young people below the age of 30, and the number of suicides has even increased by 15% (in Dutch) since 2020. “There are so few subjects that are so hard to talk about. If TU Delft would be brave enough to do something about this, jointly with 113, the suicide prevention number, for example, it would really break taboos.”
- Are you thinking about suicide and do you want contact? Phone or chat anonymously with 113. Phone telephone number 0800-0113 free of charge. Or chat on the website.
“The same goes for alcohol and drug use. There is a lot of drinking, especially at the student associations, whether under group pressure or not. Given the great concern about mental health and substance abuse among students in higher education, the Trimbos Institute is now carrying out a detailed investigation (in Dutch). Talking about how you deal with alcohol and drugs while studying seems a good thing to do.”
“I hope my Instagram account will help in an open discussion on student well-being.” She believes that TU Delft has a key role in this discussion. “TU Delft must be a safe environment. It must be a place where you can and may make mistakes. In my experience there are more and more bureaucratic hurdles in studying. Obligatory attendance, obligatory interim examinations, signing up for examinations on time. If you are late or sick, you need to arrange a lot of things to still be able to do them.”
‘I hear too often that academic counsellors normalise burnouts’
She believes that creating a safe environment depends on two things. One, teachers and course coordinators need to create an environment in which students dare say that things are not going well. Two, the need for all the hurdles should be looked into. “Obligatory interim examinations and deadlines may encourage students to keep track of their work, but they can also push them over the edge if they have had a bad week.”
She would like to see TU Delft taking these points seriously and talking to students. “They might already be doing this, but I have seen little of it myself.” She also hopes that academic counsellors and student deans get better tools in dealing with students’ mental health issues. “I often hear from students that academic counsellors normalise burnouts. Students are told that the study is heavy and that a burnout is just part of it. This is a very unhealthy culture and it is high time that TU Delft changes it.”
Do you need help?
- If you are not feeling comfortable and you want to talk about it to someone, it can help to talk to the people around you. This could be family or friends.
- Is your situation affecting your studies? Then discuss it with the Academic Counsellor.
- The Academic Counsellor can refer you to the student psychologists.
- The student psychologists offer short term guidance of up to three sessions. If you need long term support, they will refer you to the general practitioner or a psychologist outside TU Delft. You are also always free to contact the student psychologists if you feel the need to do so. The current waiting list is available here, and there is also a daily walk-in consultation hour.
- The student psychologists have published tips and tools online, including a page about recognising psychological problems.
- You can also contact your own general practitioner or the Student Healthcare Services (SGZ). Should the general practitioner not be available in the weekend, you can always contact the general medical centre in Delft on 015-2511930. See the website for more information.
- Are you thinking about suicide and do you want to contact someone? Phone or chat anonymously with 113. Phone telephone number 0800-0113 free of charge. Chat on the website.
- Are you concerned about someone in your surroundings? Then contact the ‘Meldpunt Bezorgd’ (concerned contact point) on 0900 040 040 5 or through the website (in Dutch). This care is for people who live in Delft. Are you concerned about someone outside Delft? Then phone 112 or 113.